It is my great pleasure to be a part of the collective celebration of Manijeh Moradian's This Flame Within: Iranian Revolutionaries in the United States, a truly stunning achievement. In bringing to the fore a submerged history of Iranian leftist student organizing in the United States prior to 1979, Manijeh importantly reperiodizes the Iranian diaspora and demands that we expand our understanding of Third World internationalism and Afro-Asian solidarity movements in particular. Most important, Manijeh's careful archival excavation of this forgotten history, the remarkable interviews she conducts with dozens of members of the Iranian Students Association who survived that period, and her consistent attention to the deployment of discourses of gender and sexuality in nationalist and diasporic contexts give us incredible insight into the current moment. Her book allows us to make sense of the mass mobilization that began in September 2022, with women and girls once again at the forefront of the movement both in Iran and in the diaspora.

As Manijeh's dissertation advisor at New York University (NYU), I was privileged to have been present at the birth of this project some thirteen years ago when she first entered into our graduate program. To see what she has accomplished in the ensuing years—as the project has grown, transformed, and deepened in complexity—is nothing short of astonishing. I want to begin by remembering Manijeh as the student she was in 2009 when she first entered my office at NYU. I was immediately struck both by her openness—a willingness to learn and to listen—but also a palpable sense of quiet resolve, purpose, and determination. She entered into our graduate program as an already accomplished writer of creative nonfiction, with several publications to her name. She subsequently shared with me her own history of radical organizing as a young person in leftist organizations, and the fact that her own father had been part of a generation of radical student organizers in the United States prior to 1979.

I highlight these biographical details, which she also mentions in the book, because upon reading the book I was so struck by how she brings her full self to it: her own personal and familial history of radical organizing and activism, together with her unparalleled skills in close listening, hearing, and storytelling. The book is about what Manijeh calls “revolutionary affects,” and indeed I found reading the book itself to be a tremendously affective and affecting experience. What is so apparent from the first page to the last is how the entire book is infused with Manijeh's deep empathy for her interviewees—for their dreams and aspirations for another, more equitable world, for the joy and delight they took in the feeling and practice of solidarity with other minoritized communities, for their excitement in creating alternative kinship networks—as well as for their profound sense of loss, heartbreak, and failure.

Manijeh deploys various key terms that resonate throughout the book: revolutionary affect, certainly, but also the related terms affects of solidarity and resistant nostalgia. Manijeh uses the term resistant nostalgia, which she borrows from Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, to name the evocation of lost revolutionary ideals that so powerfully imprint the psyches of her interviewees; she counterposes this resistant nostalgia to the normative nostalgia that typically characterizes the post-1979 Iranian diaspora. What becomes clear is that Manijeh herself, in writing this book and in resurrecting these forgotten histories, is very much an active participant in the relay of memory and resistant nostalgia that she traces for us. Manijeh approaches her interviewees with a deep sense of responsibility and care; it is equally clear how much trust they place in her to safeguard, transmit, and do justice to the stories they share with her. As Manijeh poignantly writes: “For some of the people I interviewed, their conversations with me were the first attempt to explain, out loud to a stranger, how they have tried to make sense of what they did more than forty years ago.”1 This relay of trust and care between Manijeh and those she interviews provides the lifeblood of the book; it gives it its richness and beauty, its texture and depth. In this sense, Manijeh herself is enacting what she terms the “intergenerational transmission of revolutionary affects, even in the absence of organizational continuities” (34). She both excavates and produces a diasporic inheritance of revolutionary affects and histories that powerfully works against the notion that there are no alternatives.

To be clear, Manijeh does not traffic in a romanticization of that brief moment of revolutionary optimism. Far from it; she provides a clear-eyed assessment of its limits and rigidities, particularly as it affected the women in the movement. The fact that she is able to do this while navigating the trust and responsibility bequeathed to her is truly remarkable. Thus the other key term at work in the book, which Manijeh does not explicitly use but that is powerfully evoked, at least for me, is intimacy. We as readers are privy to the intimacy between Manijeh and her interviewees, just as Manijeh beautifully captures the everyday intra- and intercommunal intimacies that fueled the Third World internationalism of the time. Manijeh situates these everyday intimacies in the context of the intimacies of different imperial, nationalist, and revolutionary discourses of gender and sexuality as they converge upon the bodies of Iranian women.

To my mind, the chapter in the book that makes these intimacies in all senses of the word most apparent is the penultimate one, titled “Intersectional Anti-Imperialism: Alternative Genealogies of Revolution and Diaspora.” Manijeh's analysis here of the women's uprising in Iran in March 1979 is, quite simply, a tour de force. I found myself underlining passage after passage in this chapter, as I was deeply moved by how prescient and relevant Manijeh's observations are to the current “women, life, freedom” movement. One of Manijeh's contentions throughout the book is that the failed movements of the past continue to inspire the freedom dreams of the present and future. These movements, as she so eloquently puts it, “survived in the underground of memory, a trickle just strong enough to nourish future generations” (33). Nowhere is this more clear than when we situate the current moment of feminist uprising that we see today within the invaluable historical frame and analysis that Manijeh gives us in this chapter.

The women's uprising of 1979, Manijeh tells us, has been relegated to a mere footnote in the voluminous historiography of the revolution. Manijeh brilliantly reads the scant existing archival material on the uprising against the grain. She gleans from it the voices of women who are quite literally rendered unintelligible within the dominant interpretive frames of white first world feminism or patriarchal nationalisms. In so doing, she brings to the fore the articulation of a Third World revolutionary feminism that resonates powerfully in the present. This is a feminism that, as she writes, “fought for liberation from the entangled forces of patriarchy, racism, and colonization as part of the overall transformation of society” (270). Manijeh notes that one of the major slogans of the revolution (“Independence, Freedom, Islamic Republic!”) was transformed by the women protesters in 1979 into the slogan “Independence, Freedom, Equal Rights!” We can trace a direct line from that demand for a different world, where women's bodily autonomy and freedom from violence are at its core, to today's slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom!” Because of Manijeh's groundbreaking book, we can understand this earlier moment of Third World revolutionary feminism as a vital diasporic inheritance for the many thousands who have taken part in solidarity protests both in Iran and throughout the diaspora. “We will never know,” Manijeh writes, “what might have happened if the major leftist and liberal parties rallied behind these women rather than disparaging and undermining them” (272). Manijeh's book teaches us that perhaps this current moment is yet another moment of reckoning, one when maybe, just maybe, the paths not taken in the past may finally lead us to, as she puts it, a “radically just future” (273).

Note

1.

Moradian, This Flame Within, 268. Hereafter cited in the text.

Reference

Moradian, Manijeh.
This Flame Within: Iranian Revolutionaries in the United States
.
Durham, NC
:
Duke University Press
,
2022
.